After being shadowed for four seasons with the Minnesota Viking, Jerick McKinnon signed with the 49ers this offseason to a 4-year, $30M contract.  McKinnon is expected to be the lead back for what is starting to look like an up-and-coming 49ers’ offense.

The 49ers didn’t add any running backs during the 2018 NFL Draft, which has only pushed McKinnon up in fantasy drafts as many view him now as the Devonta Freeman of Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

Lets take a closer look at the fifth-year running back out of Georgia Southern.

2017 Review

Being a waiver-wire pickup after Dalvin Cook went down in week four against the Detroit Lions, it was once again McKinnon’s time to shine as he finished the following week with 95 rushing yards and a touchdown on 16 carries along with 51 yards on six reception against the Chicago Bears. The next week he was able to follow up with another rushing touchdown to go along with 69 yards on the ground, plus an additional touchdown and 30 yards on five receptions.

Those who scooped him off the waiver wire and inserted him into their lineups the first two weeks after Cooks’ injury thought they struck gold with McKinnon and his three total touchdowns in just eight quarters of football.

The Cinderella story quickly came to an end as McKinnon experienced a dip in production due in large part to the committee he was a part of with Latavius Murray who signed a 3-year, $15M deal in the offseason.

While McKinnon dominated the touches both weeks five and six, from week seven on, it was more of a 50/50 split in the Vikings’ backfield, which turned into a guessing game for McKinnon owners since he became so touchdown dependent.  What makes matters worse is the fact McKinnon scored just twice more the remainder of the regular season.

This caused McKinnon to be a flex play at best as is rushing and receiving totals were too inconsistent without the touchdowns. However, if you were lucky enough in week 15 of your fantasy playoffs to start him, he gave you a forgettable nine rushes for 24 yards but made himself fantasy relevant by catching seven passes for 114 yards.

Week 16, most fantasy football league’s championship week, came against a Green Bay team that had nothing to play for so it should have been McKinnon’s time to shine.  If you were intrigued by his week 15 numbers, leading you to use him in your championship matchup, you were likely disappointed.  McKinnon finished with just 42 rushing yards along with a single catch for nine yards.

2018 Outlook

Most think this will be McKinnon’s year to break out as a featured back as he shouldn’t have to share the backfield with another teammate. McKinnon has never been asked to shoulder the load as a workhorse running back and this is part of the reason I feel the hype is going too far as others are not looking at the alternative options in the 49ers’ backfield, leading them to be quietly missing a player that has been somewhat forgotten in fantasy circles.

Matt Breida.

Breida cannot be forgotten. If McKinnon is going to be the “Devonta Freeman” of the running backs, that should at the very least make Brieda the “Tevin Coleman” of this group.

Despite the inconsistencies that McKinnon has shown, he will be the lead back of this rotation based on the money that he is making this year. With that being said, fantasy owners shouldn’t completely discredit the presence of Breida as he will be given opportunities as well just as Coleman was for Freeman. I am sure we will have more clarity on the anticipated split as mandatory OTA’s begin and we’ve had a chance to see a couple of preseason games.

We are hearing that McKinnon has been Jimmy Garoppolo’s “most active receiver” in OTA’s. If this is true, then McKinnon should easily see 50 receptions this season. If you look back at Freeman’s best year as a receiving back under Shanahan, he finished with 73 receptions.

Now I am sure many are looking at this as a floor for McKinnon, but I see it as a ceiling for him. Keep in mind that when Garoppolo took over as the starting quarterback in San Francisco last year, Carlos Hyde saw a decrease in both targets and receptions.

Furthermore, the schedule this season is not looking very favorable for McKinnon in regards to matchups as he has one of the hardest schedules for running backs; so be prepared for the potential of more lower output games than you’re likely expecting if McKinnon ends up on your fantasy team.

Final Advice

Finishing as RB21 in half PPR leagues in 2017, I feel that people are too excited for McKinnon and what he may become as the lead option for his team at running back.

We need to temper our expectations on what we think McKinnon can do because he’s consistently been a waiver-wire add over course of the last four years and now he’s instantly being looked at as a late-second/early third-round pick now that he’s been given this opportunity with the 49ers.

McKinnon is the consensus RB18 in our positional rankings. I feel like this is his absolute ceiling as he has never proved to be anything more than a low-end RB2/flex option. Sure, he will have his RB1 weeks, but are you going to guess right and start him on those weeks after he’s had a few lower-scoring performances?

If I had the opportunity to draft him at his current average draft position, I would pass and go for either a different running back or wide receiver. Instead of selecting McKinnon at his ADP, I’d prefer to take a late-round flier on Breida and select the guy who provides my fantasy team with depth rather than having to count on McKinnon as an every-week starter.


Be sure to check out the latest episodes of the Loaded Box Podcast as the guys are joined by Andrew Erickson of Gridiron Experts (Running Backs) and Mitchell Renz of Chat Sports (Wide Receivers) to play the fantasy football version of “Would You Rather”

Ryan Miner is a featured blogger for the Loaded Box Podcast.  Check out his article archive and find more from the Loaded Box on Twitter & Facebook